Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Israel and the Iran framework agreement

A strong possibility coming out of the Lausanne nuclear deal is that Israel backs down on Netanyahu’s confrontation with the US administration, which only sidelined Tel Aviv, writes Mohamed Gomaa

Al-Ahram Weekly

The intensive Israeli media coverage of the framework accord struck between Iran and the P5+1 in Lausanne in itself speaks of Tel Aviv’s concern over that agreement. It is also a sign that battles over that agreement will intensify during the coming months until the end of June, when a final agreement is due. Israel’s failure to prevent the framework agreement will spur the Netanyahu government into sharpening its swords in order to abort a final agreement. But the race will be tight. The train of progress has already embarked from Lausanne and the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are determined to see it to its final station, sign an agreement and fulfill their pledges.

The battle will be fierce and devils will lurk in the details. But the pressures of diverse international interests and the political will on the part of both Obama and Rouhani seem to favour the prospects of a final accord.

ISRAELI SUCCESSES AND FAILURES: The success of negotiations in Lausanne has prompted some introspection in Israel with regard to how it has handled the question of the Iranian nuclear programme during the past 15 years. Perhaps examinations of the failures and successes in that experience will come in handy in the battle in the coming phase and beyond, the thinking goes. In an article in Yedioth Ahronoth, former Israeli national security advisor Giora Eiland listed four areas where Israel had succeeded:

- Raising international awareness on the Iranian nuclear threat.

- Pushing for specifically worded resolutions on sanctions against Tehran.

- Furnishing vital intelligence to Israel and friendly nations.

- Hampering the progress of the Iranian project by clandestine means.

Eiland then registered two major areas where Israel had failed:

- Israel failed to promote a stronger relationship between Washington and Moscow, which would have favoured its position on the Iranian question.

- Israel’s rigidity, intransigence and persistent harping on unreasonable demands caused the world, including the US, to stop listening to it.

With regard to the first point, it was obvious that complete collaboration between Russia, China and India was a prerequisite to an effective isolation of Iran. But for this to happen, Russia needed to be on board. In fact, Russia did approach Tel Aviv, asking it to use its influence in Washington to encourage dialogue with Russia. In this framework, the Kremlin would up its pressure on Iran to agree to the Russian proposal to absorb Iran’s enriched uranium, a proposal that the US recognised could hold the solution to the problem. Moscow’s proposal would have served both Russian and Israeli interests, but Israeli governments refused to let the Russians help them. The result was that Russia turned its back to the West and the isolation of Iran was only partial.

As for the matter of Israeli rigidity, Eiland observes that the international community, like Israel, believed that Iran had to be prohibited from enriching uranium entirely. However, two years ago the international position softened irreversibly. Under such circumstances, writes Eiland, Israel should have moved its line of defence back. It should have insisted, for example, that if Iran is to be permitted to enrich uranium then that substance should be transported to a third country and returned to it in the form of “fuel bars”, which are usable to generate electricity but not capable of being enriched further to bomb-making quality. A year ago, the Americans had come around to this solution. But Israel dug in its heels at “zero enrichment”. That was when Israel eliminated itself from the realm of effective involvement in the promotion of a realistic solution.

THE ISRAELI READING OF THE LAUSANNE AGREEMENT:  In general, Israel believes that the Lausanne agreement only defers the threat. It may prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb but it won’t prevent it from being “equipped” to build one in the future, as it will be allowed to continue enrichment and possess the full nuclear chain. This means that it will possess the knowhow and the tools (albeit under international supervision) and, hence, the opportunity to possess the technology for creating a nuclear weapon in the future. Therefore, while Israel may have won some immediate gains from the agreement, it feels that it has to act to contain the detrimental repercussions.

That the agreement has handed Israel certain advantages is beyond question. That the Iranian enrichment programme has been frozen at the “nuclear threshold” means that the presumed threat of an immanent Iranian nuclear attack against Israel has receded to zero. Therefore, Israel will not need to remain on high levels of preparedness for destroying Iranian nuclear capacities at present.

Still, Israel is wary of the long-term implications of an agreement with international powers that implicitly recognises the Iranian right to be at the “nuclear threshold” or to become a “semi-nuclear” power, and that will lead to the lifting of sanctions and to the international recognition of Iran’s special status in the Middle East. In particular, it envisages the following potential problems or threats after a final agreement is concluded:

- Iran will still be able to build the infrastructure and, after the lifting of sanctions, accumulate an abundance that will bring it closer to crossing the “breakthrough” point where it would be able to produce a nuclear warhead in a short time. The ability to control most of the elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, possession of the infrastructure and technology, a storehouse of enrichable material and the ability to attach a nuclear warhead to the appropriate missilery are the prerequisites for becoming a military nuclear power.

- Israel believes that the agreement contains a number of holes. For example, while the agreement bans the use of new centrifuges during the next 10 years, there is no restriction on developing or producing highly upgraded versions of existing models that can be used immediately the moment Tehran decides to. Israel is sceptical of how “unprecedentedly” close the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections will be.

- It also doubts the ability of the Security Council to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran breaks the provisions of the agreement. Israelis believe that once Iran is re-assimilated into the international community it will be difficult to marshal the world into complying with the sanctions regime again.

-s-- As a “semi-nuclear” power, with the sanction of an agreement with the international community, Tehran will have developed a form of immunity against any military attacks on its nuclear installations. Israel in particular will find it hard to justify an attack against Iranian nuclear infrastructure without incurring international condemnation. Meanwhile, it will become more difficult to pressure it with regard to its negative interventions in regional affairs. In fact, the international community will probably be reluctant to take a tough stance against Iranian policies in the region or at home for fear of provoking the Ayatollahs into actually crossing the nuclear threshold.

- The agreement has not responded to the Israeli demand, voiced via the US, that Iran had to recognise Israel as a condition for concluding the agreement. The demand was viewed by the countries that negotiated with Iran as an Israeli ruse to obstruct the agreement.

- On the other hand, international recognition of Iran as a “semi nuclear” power will help Tehran in its bid to expand and enhance its influence in the region, enabling it to offer a protective umbrella to its non-state allies and proxies, and thereby acquiring “blackmailing power” against other state actors. Otherwise put, the agreement will enable Iran to continue to intervene in various areas and to recruit radical Shia organisations for the purposes of bolstering Iran’s regional status and its ability to counter actions that it believes do not serve its interests.

- The Iranian deterrent will grow stronger as the result of the agreement due to the permanent ambiguity and suspicion hovering around its capacities and intentions. This situation will encourage other countries of the region (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt) to follow the same course and develop a nuclear programme. Indeed, some of these countries have already declared this to be their intention.

ISRAELI PLANS AND COURSES OF ACTION: At present, it is not certain whether or not Israel has obtained full and detailed briefs on the nature of international inspections that the agreement will call into play. Nor is it certain whether Israel is convinced that such provisions for periodic inspections by IAEA teams will be sufficient, or whether Tel Aviv will feel the need to supplement these with means of its own. However, it is still possible to identify the type of measures that Israel will most likely pursue in the coming phase.

For one, we can predict with certainty that Israel will intensify its espionage activities in order to obtain incontrovertible evidence of Iranian violations of the agreement and to develop a form of early warning mechanism of any alteration in Iranian practices indicative of a move to develop its military nuclear infrastructure or to transfer nuclear technology or substances to other parties. It will also work to attain a degree of perfection in its abilities to gather and assess intelligence concerning the efforts of other countries in the region to achieve nuclear parity with Iran.

More immediately, Israel will most likely explore the possibility of forging a strategic agreement with the US that would include a plan to respond militarily in the event that Iran violated the agreement. Also, in the forthcoming days and weeks, Israel will strive to ensure the continuation of the American protective shield to forestall pressures on Tel Aviv with regard to international supervision of its own nuclear facilities.

 Israel may also try to take advantage of the current opportunity to strike a number of understandings with some other countries in the region over actions to take in the event of Iranian bids to use its new status to expand its negative influence in various areas of the Middle East. In this framework, Israel would try to reach agreements for collaboration in intelligence and field operations against Iranian proxies and their activities.

 In general, the Lausanne agreement has had the sobering effect of inducing Israel to consider its past mistakes. One imagines that it will now try to avoid these pitfalls as much as possible. In the past, Tel Aviv paid little attention to the effects of the tensions between it and the Obama administration on the level of collaboration between the two countries in security and technology. Perhaps it had imagined that cooperation between officials would remain open and genuine, regardless of political tensions. If so, it may now have awoken to the fact that its insistence on unrealistic demands is one of the factors that led American technicians to ignore their Israeli counterparts.

Some analysts believe that Netanyahu will escalate his campaign against Obama in the hope of getting what he wants. However, there is a certain validity to the contrary belief that the Israelis have learned the lessons of this tactic and that instead of diatribes against the Obama administration it would be more productive for Tel Aviv to work with it quietly and to strike some form of peaceful coexistence.

add comment

  • follow us on